Robert Frost Trail

Stretch and I drove up to Massachusetts to hike the Robert Frost Trail. Finding out any practical information online for backpacking it was difficult. There is a guide from 2004 that says camping is prohibited. There is a 2012 Amherst Conservation map of a large portion of the trail that did not show any campsites. Amherst’s website listed a few areas where camping is allowed with a permit, but no information on how to get the permit. Both of us called and emailed Amherst Conservation, Massachusetts DCR, and AMC Berkshire many times looking for information and came up empty. Only one person even sent a response. We decided we would just camp on the conservation areas on the Amherst map sans permit, and then in state forest when we progressed beyond the map.

We arrived at the Notch Visitors Center at the south end of the trail right before dusk. It was pretty busy and some guys we asked in the parking lot said plenty of people park overnight there and camp in the area so that made us feel a little more comfortable leaving the car. We set out up the trail and very quickly had to pull out our headlamps. After a mile or two, we hopped off trail to find a campsite.


In the morning, we were up right at dawn to pack up and get moving before any day hikers showed up. We stopped at a viewpoint for breakfast and then continued on. The trail had a lot of PUDs (pointless ups and downs) but the foliage looked great.



The trail entered a stretch of private property then so we had to walk down a powerline for a while and do a little road walking. Right before we entered some farm fields, we ran into a couple of day hikers who gave us some information on the upcoming trail. They didn’t seem to think it strange that we had large packs on so there must at least occasionally be other backpackers on this trail.

In going through the road walks, I pulled out the guide to see if it might be helpful at all. We had written it off in the car because the first section I read did not even exist. It was proposed trail ten years ago so I guess the project got derailed. It turned out the guide for the parts of the trail that did exist seemed to be spot on though. The trail was usually fairly well marked with orange blazes, and arrows when entering road walks, but there were a couple of places the guide definitely helped as well.

We saw a few small piles of bear scat around the corn fields, and then entered the woods again in the Lawrence Swamp area. It was getting on to lunch time so we were waiting for a good water source to stop at. Some of the smaller streams on the map were dried up but the standing swamp water we passed was a little too disgusting so we moved on. Eventually we found water that was sort of running so we had lunch there.


After lunch, we had a lot more private property to go through, so there was more road walking. At one point, we had to hop over the middle of a guard rail where there was no shoulder and follow the trail down a steep embankment between two chain link fences, with a landfill behind one of them. It was not the most scenic trail. We did come across one cool area, a teepee built in memory of a cat, called Lucky’s Peace Spot.


We reached the Amethyst Brook conservation area at dinner time, where we planned on camping, but it was a much smaller area than expected and there were people everywhere since it was near a road. We found what we thought was a good stealth spot to wait for dark to setup, and people walked by there too. Then a skunk walked by. I knew it was supposed to be pouring rain all the next morning and we’d have to be out of our tents at first light again due to the amount of use the area was getting, so with all of the factors combined, we decided to go to town.

It was dark at that point so we night hiked out and called a cab. It took us back down to the Notch to get the car, and we headed back to town to get pizza and stay at the HoJos. We set a plan for the next day to go park the car at the northern end of the trail, in Wendell State Forest, then hitch back to where we got off and hike to the car.

We went right by the State Forest Headquarters so we also tried to stop there and get more info, or at least find out if we could park there since it was at the end of the trail. There was a truck outside, the lights were on inside, and we heard voices, but the door was locked and no one answered our knocks. They also did not answer when we called.

We parked down the road a ways at a different trailhead instead. Stretch wasn’t sure she even wanted to hike the Robert Frost Trail any more so we made a deal that we had to be in a car on the way there within an hour or we’d turn back and go do something else. We were picked up after five minutes by a guy who could not believe the trouble we’d had getting information about the trail and insisted on stopping at the headquarters again to talk to them, and they still did not answer. He apologized on behalf of the state of Massachusetts and dropped us off in the little town just outside the forest.

Next we needed to hitch a long ways down one road so it seemed easy, but people were just waving at us instead of stopping. Ten minutes before the time limit was up, a woman turned back around to come get us, and we were on our way. She stopped a few miles short of our endpoint so we ended up on a very busy college campus, where everyone driving by probably thought we were just weird students with too large packs and wouldn’t pick us up.

Time to walk. I love walking, obviously, but I don’t like to do it with a big pack on, off the trail. That’s what hitching is for. We walked about halfway to the trailhead and then sat on a bench for a while trying to decide if we were fed up completely yet or not. Since it was very likely we couldn’t get a ride back to the car, and we couldn’t find an appropriate bus schedule, we realized the most logistically simple way of getting back to the car was to hike there.

So we kept walking. Stretch put out an inquiry on facebook to see if we knew anyone in the area, and right as we got to the trailhead, Rachel, a friend of a friend, called and said she’d come get us. We got all the way back to the trail, but the whole thing was so annoying, we left again.

Rachel dropped us back off at the car and we decided to go visit a friend of mine in Vermont and do some hiking there.

I wanted to track the trail since there was only old information available online so here is what I came up with for the section we did. The first map is all the camps, water sources, roads, parking, etc, that I marked using Backcountry Navigator on my phone. The second map is tracking and check in messages sent from my SPOT device.


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  1. OMG I love that tee pee!! IN MEMORY OF A CAT!! Hope you’re stayin warm!!!

  2. Thank you, Siren, for this post. A friend and I were considering backpacking the entire Robert Frost but after reading this review we might consider other options. Neither of us are experienced backpackers, and we were hoping the RFT would be an easy sort of “introduction to backpacking.” The difficulties you had with navigating the trail and getting any sort of help from the State Forest people are pretty off-putting though.

    Do you have any suggestions for short, easy backpacking excursions in western MA or NH/Vermont? Thanks again for the post, and in advance for any advice!


    • Hi Nate! The only other trail I am familiar with in western MA is the Appalachian Trail. I think doing a section of that would be good for beginners as far as having frequent water sources and even shelters and privies. MA is where the AT starts to get steep again after the flatter Mid Atlantic states but it’s not too bad for the most part. Vermont and New Hampshire have a ton of good backpacking but I’ve mostly been on the AT or trails to 4,000 footers. If you are experienced in day hiking those areas and used to steep trails, then some sections would be appropriate for beginner backpackers. You can always just do low mileage and take it slow. Some flat trails I’m remembering in NH are the Greeley Pond Trail and Lincoln Woods Trail. Perhaps you could find a loop involving one of those. Or if you want to try hiking to a hut in the Whites, the Zealand Falls Hut is fairly easy to get to. Let me know what you end up choosing!

  3. Hi Siren,

    Thank you for this post! I am a long time Amherst resident (the RFT goes right by my house!), so I enjoyed reading your experience with the area, though I do apologize that it wasn’t an overall pleasant one. I’m trying to put together a through hike of the RFT in the coming months, and I came across your post while doing some preliminary research, but there is not much out there. That’s probably because the RFT is really not designed to be through hiked. As you experienced, much of the trail is through private property, and the arrangements with the property owners are often informal and subject to change. The expected use of the trail is day hiking. As such, there is really no infrastructure in place to guide and manage a through hike, and you are technically not supposed to camp anywhere along the trail. That being said, there are a couple areas where people have been known to occasionally set up camp and spend the night. These are areas that are not near any residences, not in state parks or forests, and not near any trailheads. Even then, a strict leave-no-trace practice is a must. In general, area residents LOVE hiking and the outdoors (hence the large amount of conservation land) and make heavy use of the RFT, and probably wouldn’t mind knowing that a few places occasionally serve as camp sites. However, they probably would mind hearing your voices from their houses at night (it gets very quiet) or finding old fire-pits on their morning hike. All of this is to say that while on paper the RFT looks like an attractive entry-level backpacking experience, the culture of the trail is not a backpacking culture. People day hike it with large packs mostly to train for other backpacking trips. Obviously, I still think its possible to through hike, but I write this as a word of caution to others to not expect an AT- or PCT- like experience where residents expect and recognize through-hikers. Much of the trail’s existence hinges on respecting the privacy and wishes of the landowners who generously allow the trail to pass through their back yards. A through-hiker of the RFT should be well-researched in how and where they can camp respectfully. Incidentally, I think you did a good job picking your camping areas, but would have definitely recommended getting deeper into the trail at Amethyst! Of course, I technically can’t endorse any specific area as a campsite, or endorse through-hiking of the RFT at all. For other long Western Mass hikes, the Metacomet-Monadnock trail I think may be more conducive to camping (though I’m not sure), and certainly the AT. Big takeaway: the RFT and M&M trails do not have a through-hiking culture like that of the Long Trail, AT, White Mountains, etc., and there is no established infrastructure to accommodate logistics like overnight parking, trailhead-to-trialhead transportation, or camping.

    I hope this proves useful to anyone planning an overnight trip on the RFT who is unfamiliar with the area and local expectations. It is a beautiful trail that is very intimately tied to the towns it passes through, and tenuously links several diverse parks and conservation areas that are the pride of residents.

    Happy trails!

    • Agreed, Connor. We’re setting out tomorrow actually to thru hike it, but have friends with backyards for us along the way….

  4. I thru hiked the RFT in October 2021 and found it to be very easy to navigate. Only once did I have to hunt for where the trail kept going which was a powerlines stretch just north of the Holyoke Range (stay on the powerline trail). I camped in a field of the Lawrence Swamp area (the sign near the road said primitive camping allowed) and the second night I camped deep in the woods of Mt. Toby. I would highly recommend this trail to anyone who wanted to check it out. I see that some of the comments are from people who seem discouraged from hiking this trail and having completed the trail I would say don’t be afraid!

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